March 1, 2012
Saturday's contest between UAB and Florida State will be the first-ever collegiate sand volleyball match played anywhere as an NCAA-sanctioned emerging sport.
With UAB's inaugural sand volleyball season beginning this weekend, head coach Hal Messersmith sat down with uabsports.com to discuss his team, the upcoming season and the development of sand volleyball as a collegiate sport.
The Blazers will open at home this Saturday with a 1 p.m. match against Florida State. The team's brand new sand facility is located right next to West Campus Field -- the home of the UAB soccer teams -- on 11th Street South.
Messersmith, a veteran of the coaching profession, serves as the director of volleyball operations for UAB's indoor volleyball team, and he is just one of many familiar faces fans will see when they go out to Saturday's match.
The Blazers' sand volleyball roster is composed of the same players who make up UAB's indoor team in the fall. But, as Messersmith explains, the game fans will see won't be quite the same ...
Q. What are the biggest differences between sand volleyball and the indoor game?
A. "In sand we only have two people on each side of the court; indoor we have six. That means in sand you touch the ball a lot more than you do indoors, and it's a lot more of a control game. Indoor is a lot more power and speed."
Q. Is there a major adjustment from playing indoors to playing in the sand?
A. "Some people think there is a big adjustment. I don't think there's that big an adjustment. The surface and the elements, the wind, the rain and the sun, change things a lot. It slows down the game. It also means there's much more ball control needed outdoors than you have to have indoors, and you don't have as many specialty players like middles. You have to be able to both pass and hit and do the things you need to do as an all-around player in the sand."
Q. What can fans expect when they come out to see a match?
A. "Since it's an outdoor game, I think that we'll try to create more of a `party'-type atmosphere. If it's a beautiful day, we'll have a lot of fans out there, maybe more than we have for indoor at the present time. The biggest thing is that it's relaxed and fun."
Q. What are the benefits of adding a sand volleyball program?
A. "It helps in your recruiting both indoor and outdoor, and it allows the girls to have a place to try to play professionally when they're done. There are a lot more professional leagues in sand volleyball than there are in indoor volleyball. You have to go overseas to be a professional in indoor volleyball. The biggest thing, though, is that it allows your volleyball team to train all year long and to recruit people from coast to coast, and just gives girls more opportunity to play."
Q. How quickly is collegiate sand volleyball gaining popularity?
A. "It's the first year they've had it as far as an NCAA-sanctioned sport, and it's definitely gaining popularity really fast because they've got a lot of schools that are adding the sport. There are 16 this year, and they expect to have double that next year and on down the line. "
Q. How do you see the sport developing over the next five to 10 years?
A. "There are 16 teams right now. Next year I think they said there will be another 16, if not more. In the future, I think everybody will have sand volleyball if they want to have a good overall volleyball program. The reason being that right now we're having more and more players transferring away from the big programs and going to schools that have sand volleyball. All of those programs are going to fall in line eventually.
"I think the sport is going to be huge. Only one state now has high school sand volleyball and that's Arizona. The rest of the states, I don't know how quickly they'll add high school sand volleyball, but if I read correctly, there are 300,000 girls participating in sand volleyball all across the country in club sports. Programs like ours give them a chance to go play in college."
Q. How have the players already in the volleyball program taken to the idea of playing on the sand team?
A. "Our girls love it. They want to be out here every day. Our school built us such a beautiful facility, they are excited to be out here."
Q. How much of an impact has Olympic beach volleyball had on the growth of the sport?
A. "There's no doubt in my mind that the United States men and women winning gold medals in the Olympics the last few times has made an impact. The television popularity of that sport in the Olympics has been almost beating everybody. That has really upped the young ladies trying to be sand players."
Q. What is it like to be able to lay the foundation for a sport in its first year?
A. "It's a great opportunity. Our biggest thing is that we want indoor and outdoor. We're trying to keep our kids happy and we're trying to get the best volleyball players we can to come to UAB."
Q. What will this year's schedule look like?
A. "Most of our matches are going to be duals this year. We only play one open tournament and that is hosted by North Florida in Jacksonville. In duals, you have five two-on-two matches, and whoever wins three wins the match, much like college tennis. The open tournaments will be just the pairs and they'll go through a tournament format to see who wins."